Assessment of Mars Pathfinder landing site predictions

Journal of Geophysical Research E: Planets

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DOI: 10.1029/1998JE900015



Remote sensing data at scales of kilometers and an Earth analog were used to accurately predict the characteristics of the Mars Pathfinder landing site at a scale of meters. The surface surrounding the Mars Pathfinder lander in Ares Vallis appears consistent with orbital interpretations, namely, that it would be a rocky plain composed of materials deposited by catastrophic floods. The surface and observed maximum clast size appears similar to predictions based on an analogous surface of the Ephrata Fan in the Channeled Scabland of Washington state. The elevation of the site measured by relatively small footprint delay-Doppler radar is within 100 m of that determined by two-way ranging and Doppler tracking of the spacecraft. The nearly equal elevations of the Mars Pathfinder and Viking Lander 1 sites allowed a prediction of the atmospheric conditions with altitude (pressure, temperature, and winds) that were well within the entry, descent, and landing design margins. High-resolution (~38 m/pixel) Viking Orbiter 1 images showed a sparsely cratered surface with small knobs with relatively low slopes, consistent with observations of these features from the lander. Measured rock abundance is within 10% of that expected from Viking orbiter thermal observations and models. The fractional area covered by large, potentially hazardous rocks observed is similar to that estimated from model rock distributions based on data from the Viking landing sites, Earth analog sites, and total rock abundance. The bulk and fine-component thermal inertias measured from orbit are similar to those calculated from the observed rock size-frequency distribution. A simple radar echo model based on the reflectivity of the soil (estimated from its bulk density), and the measured fraction of area covered by rocks was used to approximate the quasi-specular and diffuse components of the Earth-based radar echos. Color and albedo orbiter data were used to predict the relatively dust free or unweathered surface around the Pathfinder lander compared to the Viking landing sites. Comparisons with the experiences of selecting the Viking landing sites demonstrate the enormous benefit the Viking data and its analyses and models had on the successful predictions of the Pathfinder site. The Pathfinder experience demonstrates that, in certain locations, geologic processes observed in orbiter data can be used to infer surface characteristics where those processes dominate over other processes affecting the Martian surface layer. Copyright 1999 by the American Geophysical Union.

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Assessment of Mars Pathfinder landing site predictions
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Journal of Geophysical Research E: Planets
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